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ASK A TFI CLINCIAN: Breaking Relationship Monotony with Dr. Aaron Cooper, PhD

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The Internet, bookstores and magazine stands are flooded with content about breaking relationship monotony and boredom. We’ve asked our expert couples and relationship therapists to provide their insights on these issues.

Aaron Cooper, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute, provides today’s tips.

Technology is changing our brains.

“Our devices, largely via the Internet, are playing on something neuroscience has revealed about our hard-wiring: as a species we’re highly attuned to what’s new and different. Novelty captures our attention and triggers a squirt of dopamine, the pleasure hormone, in the brain.

As our technological devices alert us via sounds that something new has arrived — an email, a text message, a voicemail — few of us can resist their neurological pull, and the dopamine squirt they provide.”

It’s as if we’re becoming novelty addicts.

“Over time we’re being shaped by our devices to develop a taste for a diet high in what’s new and different. And how can the inevitable monotony, the sameness built into long term relationships, prove satisfying when we’re developing such a taste for novelty? Perhaps, as our brains increasingly seek novelty, for relationships to succeed we’re going to need to bring more novelty into them.”

It might be your brain, not your partner.

“Couples can mistake feelings of boredom with the notion that something is lacking in their relationship. There may in fact be nothing lacking in the relationship, but with our increasing need for novelty and stimulation, the relationship appears to be inadequate. With our increasing need for novelty, we might find our spouse lacking, not realizing that it’s an over-active need for stimulation that underlies our discontent, not necessarily something lacking in our spouse.”

We want it both ways.

“On the one hand, the brain is remarkably responsive to what’s new and different. On the other hand, as a species we seek secure attachment from a primary partner. Neuroscience has helped us understands both dimensions of the brain. Often, secure attachment is achieved through familiar routines. But when our culture embraces novelty, a tension develops between the familiar and the new, and it becomes harder for some couples to feel good about their routines….instead they start to feel monotonous, boring, and dull. It’s important for couples to introduce even a minimal level of novelty into their lives to balance our desire for novelty with our desire for security.”

Trigger your brain: Get creative with your date nights.

“You’re thinking, we’re lucky to have date night at all—who has time to get creative?

Here are some ideas to stimulate your imagination:

  • Venture to a nearby suburb (take the train) and discover the neighborhood dive
  • Try a one-shot class in tie-dye, tango or baking a triple chocolate cake
  • Camp out in your backyard with starlight, Mad Libs, and s’mores
  • Comb through a craft store for ingredients to create a giant birthday card for your son or daughter
  • Tour a nearby city by Segway, tandem bike or double-decker bus
  • Indulge in a progressive dinner, with each course at a new and different restaurant”

Dr. Aaron Cooper is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute. He earned his doctorate from Loyola University of Chicago in 1977, following a three-year internship at the Loyola Guidance Clinic. Prior to that, he received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Northwestern University (1973) and a Bachelor of Arts (cum laude) from Harvard University (1972).

Read Dr. Cooper’s full bio on our website.

Find more Ask A TFI Clinician posts here.

The Family Institute’s mission is to strengthen and heal families from all walks of life through clinical service, education research. Read more about our services, including affordable counseling, at our website.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Relationship Round Up | TFI TALKS

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